Laurel Knox & the Whitleys have been called many things: classic country, roots rock, Americana, the punks of honky tonk, but whatever one may call it - this band is sure to grab the attention of those who love and listen to music.
According to lead singer and song writer, Josh Teague, Laurel Knox & the Whitleys first started the band with three members. Even though they lived in Corbin, each member was originally from a different county in Kentucky.
What are the first 3 words that come to mind when I say, “Who are you as a band?”
Josh Teague: Punk Honky Tonk! Somebody once said, we sound like a punk band that’s trying to play honky tonk music and I really love that description!
Mike Cook: I don’t think we’re a clean country sound. We’re more of a grungy, punk sound with a twist. None of us try to match the others so it makes for an interesting blend.
What was your seminal moment? (When you realized you were influencing others and making a big impact)
Josh Teague: We hear people say they enjoyed our performance all the time. But we had a couple of people say they drove all the way from Lexington to listen to us in Somerset. And I was like, ‘dang, wow! We’ll take it!’ It’s an odd feeling because you always think you’re some guy just playing music and having fun. But someone will comment “I listened to the cd and this song really spoke to me.” It’s kinda almost an outer body experience. At some point, you’re not yourself. You’re the music.
Mike Cook: To this day, I’m always surprised by it honestly. Someone will say, “hey I like your song!” and I’m like, “really? me?”
How has your background shaped you?
Josh Teague: Growing up in a Baptist Church, Christianity and faith is a great representation of that hope that people in our area have. My grandfather taught me to play [instruments] and I went to church with him a lot. He was always encouraging a sense of duty in me and I’ve always liked music. In high school, I played in all the talent shows and at football games. My family has been very supportive of my music too.
Mike Cook: I’m a jack of all trades…my dad was a Pentecostal preacher and he had a group that traveled and played music at different churches. I would join in with them and I started out on the drums.
How does the community see you?
Josh Teague: We have the reputation of being one of the easiest bands to work with.
What are your civic aspirations? (future goals?) Josh Teague: I want our music to mean something. I want to be able to connect and provide the meaningfulness that I’ve felt from other artists over the years. Being a major artist or otherwise. Our biggest goal is recording our 2nd album next month. We will be working with Middle Fidelity Records here in Corbin. I have an [unofficial] title that may or may not be the name of our 2nd album which is Upper Middle White Trash. We want the theme more aimed at poverty and income inequality. In college, I remember I could barely pay my rent or keep gas in my car and sometimes I had to go without buying food. This album focuses on reality and struggles.
Mike Cook: I know I’m working 45 hours a week and it’s easy to feel like you just can’t get ahead sometimes.
What are your motivations? Who inspired you to pursue music?
Mike Cook: I’ve been playing music since I could hold a guitar. I’ve been in several bands over the years too. The first place I ever played in a group was at church.
Josh Teague: it’s kinda second nature. My grandfather played music in a lot of gospel groups and used to work at a radio station in Nashville in the ‘60s before they moved back here. I often felt alone in my teenage years too, so music was always something I had that I could do even in my loneliest moments.
Mike Cook: I think musicians are always super weird and secretly depressed anyway...it’s called ‘brewing artist‘ for a reason.
Concepts and Creativity
Who writes your original songs?
Josh Teague: We do! (Referring to Mike Cook and himself) A couple of our original songs are co-written with Mike Tye. I was introduced to Mike Cook by him. Mike Cook came in and had a bunch of great originals and the rest they say, is history.
What does your work aim to say?
Josh Teague: The first song that comes to mind on our album is called “Devils Games” which is about a battle with addiction. The whole album is about struggles that people in our local area have faced and they can relate to. We have seen a lot of people struggle with substance abuse, physical abuse…things like that.
Mike Cook: On the album, Smoke From This Altar, I wrote a song called “A New Kind of Low” and it was about a real life event about divorce. It was dealing with real emotions that I wanted to express.
Josh Teague: Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, The Who, Led Zeppelin, Willie Nelson... there’s a long list.
What are your themes when creating music?
Josh Teague: One of the main things I wanted to do with this band was to reflect the area – good and bad. The first album Smoke From This Altar was about loss, abuse, addiction and seeking redemption. Itis about the reality of struggles we face. In my mind, this album can relate to anyone that has kinda lived on the lower row of the ladder.
Mike Cook: I like to tell a story with our songs. There’s a lot of despair in the region, but there’s always this underlining hope. There’s a lot of religious undertones because Christianity is prevalent in our area.
What is your process?
Josh Teague: I find a theme or a lyric and dwell on it in my head for a little bit and then I’ll sit down and add the music. I’ll find a melody that fits the emotion I want that song to portray or a feeling I want the fans to feel - then I’ll piece the lyrics together.
Mike Cook: I’m almost the exact opposite, I will sit down with my guitar and find a riff and write a lyric to go with the mood.
…to end things out on a bang…
Mike Cook: I wrote an entire book for aspiring musicians and you can find it on Amazon. It’s called Dive Bars and Cheap Guitars: The Musical Journey of a Nobody. When I set out to write it, my whole message was: “here’s what happened to me and here’s some advice if you’re going into music”. Josh Teague: it’s something I think about a lot, when Merle Haggard went on Johnny Cash’s television show for the first time, Merle Haggard was afraid people wouldn’t accept him but Johnny Cash encouraged him...through that. The message I take from that is — never hide who you are. Always be yourself and do you and people will accept you. Mike Cook: yeah, there’s only one you!
What would you like to tell your listeners/fans?
Josh Teague: We appreciate them! We do! We’ve been overwhelmed. We’ve already sold about 200 copies of the album and that’s not counting online streaming platforms. Ultimately, our music is only worthwhile if people get something out of it.
Mike Cook: I’m with Josh, if people are getting something out of it…then I’m good! I’m hoping to inspire younger generations to pick up a guitar or any instrument and play. I feel like they’re missing out if they don’t.
Those interested in listening to music performed by Laurel Knox and The Whitleys can listen to their first album, Smoke from This Altar on iTunes or Spotify. Fans can expect to see an upcoming second album this year and even hear live performances in the local Appalachian Kentucky area Summer of 2019.